What is it about the English that has made us such keen explorers? Was it the ocean surrounding us that inspired us to explore beyond it? Is it in our blood? From Captain James Cook (best known for his sea voyages and being the first European explorer to discover the Eastern coastline of Australia), to Henry Hudson (whom the Hudson river is named after), and Sir Ranulph Fiennes (who, amongst other achievements, was the first person ever to reach the summit of Mt Everest and cross both polar ice caps), history would suggest that we just can’t resist new horizons.
When I explained my plans for Easter weekend to my Dutch friends the unanimous response was- “why would you want to do that?”. I wondered if I had discovered a fundamental difference between our two nations, but I realised the Dutch too are a seafaring nation with their own tradition of exploration. For the motivation behind my plans I had to look closer to home- the only difference I could see was that none of my Dutch friends have fathers as crazy, enthusiastic about cycling, and simultaneously persuasive as mine.
And so I took my little city bike out into the big wide world on an 81-mile (130km) trip around the Netherlands. At times I found myself asking “why did I want to do this?” but nevertheless enjoying the ride.
A small hitch was that my bike only has three gears, of which I use one, and I was barely confident it was capable of carrying me as far as I needed to go. There is no doubt that I underestimated how hilly the Netherlands can be, but with the aid of energy bars and some cheerleading from my family, we made it.
If everyone I told thought I was crazy then my family were even crazier. My dad, middle sister, and brother-in-law all started the trip two days before me, beginning with an overnight ferry ride from Hull to Rotterdam. Disembarking in the morning, they rode to Utrecht (although sources tell me that the route was not so direct and there was some element of following one’s shadow) racking up 71 miles with 1 meagre stop for lunch all day. They arrived at their Airbnb looking completely shattered, but they pulled round after ‘all you can eat’ tapas and a good night’s sleep.
Over the next two days we found some beautiful places I never knew or imagined to have existed in the Netherlands, from the Zuid Kennemerland national park, to small towns along the coast, and through the sand dunes en route to Den Haag.
A constant head wind on the first day I joined them for meant our journey took nearly three times as long as expected and low blood sugar resulted in an emergency Albert Heijn stop for peanuts and chocolate. However, I surprised myself by how well I managed to keep up with the others (all of whom had more sophisticated bikes) and the sense of accomplishment I felt at the end of the trip was well worth it (even the saddle sores).
I would highly recommend a trip like this to anyone, no matter how much or little cycling experience you have. Without a doubt I would do it again, even knowing how challenging it is. I might just take a better bike.
And more snacks.